About Me, Disney World, runDisney

Review of Star Wars: The Dark Side Half Marathon

When runDisney announced a new Star Wars themed race for the east coast, I was beyond excited.  To be totally honest, I’m not a huge Star Wars fangirl, but my husband and I have loved visiting Hollywood Studios during Star Wars Weekends in the past, and we were disappointed that they ended last year.  The character interactions and theming really immersed you into a “galaxy far, far away.”  I had really high hopes for a Star Wars themed race.

runDisney has had a “Light Side” race at Disneyland for a couple of years, so it seemed appropriate to add a “Dark Side” race at Walt Disney World.  With 7 movies and numerous television shows, there is definitely plenty of material for runDisney to work with.  Just doing a quick Google Search for “how many Star Wars villains are there” gives me a result of 478.  Seriously?  There are 478 bad guys in the Star Wars universe???  This was going to be a great race!

If you have read my blog in the past, you know that I’m not really a runner.  I do the runDisney races for the entertainment and experience, because there is really nothing like it.  I don’t do the long distance races.  10K is my limit.  In the past, Disney has done a great job with on course entertainment for both the Marathon Weekend 10K and the Princess Weekend 10K, so my expectations had been set.  I was sorely disappointed.

Jabba the Hutt photo set.  (I’m on the right!)

A nice positive to this race was the sets and entertainment available pre and post race.  I had heard and read that there have been many runners in the Disneyland race swept because they stopped for too many photos, so this idea makes sense.  By having most of the photo ops separate from the race, it gave the runners a chance to focus on their pace and, perhaps, the race had fewer runners that did not finish.  The downside is that this made the race boring.

10KFor the 10K, it was nice to run through two parks instead of just looping through Epcot.  We began in the parking lot at Epcot (similar to previous 10Ks), but had less time on the roads.  The course took us into World Showcase right at Mexico, to the UK, and out through the International Gateway.  We then ran through the Boardwalk and into the main entrance at Hollywood Studios.  From there, we ran past the Tower of Terror, and then a bit more on the roads, where we finally turned off the road onto a dirt path that led to the finish at ESPN Wide World of Sports.  The course actually seemed longer to me.

The first on course character meet was R2D2, right around mile 1, just before entering Epcot.  The second on course character was Chewbacca, right after exiting the International Gateway.  From there, I didn’t see any other characters on course.  Entertainment included a marching band about a half mile after the start, and then not much beyond that.  It was very disappointing.  I found it confusing that R2D2 and Chewy were on the “Dark Side” course, yet they are part of the Rebel Alliance.  Out of 478 villains, they choose two “Light Side” characters to be on the course?  Seriously?  R2D2

Thankfully, members of the popular 501st Legion came out to cheer on runners at the entrance to Hollywood Studios and near the finish line at ESPN.  They did a great job representing the Dark Side dressed mostly as Storm Troopers, with a few Boba and Jango Fetts.  I did see Darth Vader in the same area at ESPN, so I’m not sure if he was part of the 501st or there as official on course entertainment.  Based on the lack of characters throughout the course, it wouldn’t surprise me if he was a member of the 501st.

I can understand wanting to give the runners a chance to take photos before and after the race versus on the course.  That makes sense.  But why not have characters still on the course, just not accessible to the runners?  I’m thinking along the lines of how Anna and Elsa cheer the runners on during the Marathon and Princess 10Ks from the top of an overpass.  I was also looking for Storm Troopers on top of the roof above the turnstiles at Hollywood Studios telling runners to “move along!” kind of like they did during the opening show at Star Wars Weekends.

The Kids Races were also somewhat of a disappointment.  There was plenty of entertainment there for families, but the finish line character was a random Padawan.  Disney retired the Fab Five dressed as Star Wars characters at the end of Star Wars Weekends last year, but I was really hoping they would bring one of them back just for the Kids Races.  They have children of all ages participating in these races, from the Diaper Dash to the Mickey Mile, and it would be great to have a character all the kids are going to be familiar with.  My daughter was so excited the past two races to see either Mickey or Minnie there at the finish line.  She didn’t even notice the Padawan that pretty much stayed off to the side.

runDisney races are not cheap.  I can do a local 10K, that also includes a tech shirt and finisher medal, for $40 versus a runDisney 10K for $110.  Why do I choose the runDisney races over local races?  Because of the entertainment.  I want to be entertained during the race, and I wasn’t on this course.  My husband and I have talked it over, and we both agree that we are going to skip this race next year and see if Disney ups their game before signing up again in 2018.  From what I have read in different Facebook groups, a majority of the runners felt the same way.

One major change that was really for the best, was the replacement of MarathonFoto by PhotoPass.  Many runners were concerned that their photos weren’t going to be as good, but found them to be better than expected.  My husband and our friends are big time camera people, and they noticed upgraded equipment being used by the photographers at the Kids Races right away, and were very impressed.  Runners could very easily identify photographers on the course by the small bright green tents they were sitting in with a tall stick on top of the tent (about 15 feet high) with matching bright green balloons.  Runners quickly learned to look for the balloons, if they wanted to get “ready” for an upcoming photo.

100M Finish
Crossing the finish line at the 100M Dash!

PhotoPass was down for a bit here and there over the weekend, probably from the overload of photos that were being uploaded from the races.  There have also been many incorrectly labeled photos popping up on the wrong accounts, so there are obviously a few bugs in the system that need to be worked out.  Overall, a very welcome change that will only improve from here.

This wasn’t meant to be a rant about runDisney.  I just wanted to express my concerns about this particular race.  I still love runDisney races!  We even made a point to pull over for lunch yesterday on our way home at a place with wifi so we could take advantage of the Annual Passholder registration for Marathon Weekend.  We’re all signed up for January!  I’m very much looking forward to that trip, since a lot of our Disney friends will be there, and we always have a great time together.  Looking forward to an even bigger group photo at our celebratory dinner after the marathon!

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